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Opinion | The corruption case that didn’t matter

Josh Moon

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It was late 2014, early 2015 and the race to be the next president of the United States was just starting to heat up when word of nefarious actions at the Clinton Foundation started to circulate. 

The FBI was looking into the allegations, and from all outward appearances it seemed as if the Clintons were in serious trouble — the sort that could end political careers. But that never happened. Because the Clintons have friends in high places, and they have plenty of money to toss around in order to bend the law to their liking. 

And so, attorneys working for the Clintons convinced both President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to use their influence to squash the investigation. At one point — in one of the most egregious abuses of power and obvious quid pro quo — both Obama and Lynch accepted large “contributions” from the Clintons in exchange for the two of them signing their names to letters written by Clinton Foundation attorneys. 

Those letters, sent on Obama’s and Lynch’s letterhead, encouraged the FBI to stop its investigation and vowed to cut funding to the agency if it didn’t act accordingly. 

Cut off at the knees, the FBI had little choice but to kill its investigation. 

Infuriating, right? 

That sort of abuse of power and corruption to aid friends — especially when they’re obviously guilty — should not be tolerated, and it shouldn’t matter which party’s politicians commit it. 

If you agree with that, then why the hell are you not more angry about nearly the exact same thing happening in Alabama? 

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The story I relayed above never actually happened. Well, I guess, to be more accurate, it never happened with the Clintons, Obama and Lynch. 

It did happen in Alabama, though. 

Attorneys at the Balch and Bingham law firm, working for Drummond Coal, actually wrote letters for former Gov. Robert Bentley and former AG Luther Strange, and all but wrote another one for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Those letters opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s investigation into pollution in north Birmingham. 

Bentley and Strange pasted those letters on their office letterhead, signed them and shot them out to the EPA, letting the agency know that the state of Alabama would not cooperate with the EPA’s attempts to … um … force a known polluter to clean up pollution that had sickened thousands of Alabama citizens. 

Those letters upended an EPA investigation, and they managed to keep Drummond from paying millions in clean-up fees. 

That actually happened. And while there was a federal trial and a whopping two — TWO! — guys went to jail, most of Alabama could not have cared less. And still don’t. 

I know this is a bit of older news, but it came storming back to the present thanks to lawsuits filed by the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) demanding the AG’s office and ADEM turn over public records related to the ordeal. 

What GASP wants, specifically, is all of the correspondence between state officials at the AG’s office and ADEM and the attorneys and executives working for a company accused by the EPA of poisoning Alabama citizens. Those records, GASP is assuming, show massive coordination between those public offices and the private business. 

And given how the AG’s office and ADEM are responding, it’s a pretty safe bet that the documents show exactly that. 

In fact, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, the documents requested by GASP “paint a clear picture of how in bed with big business most of our (elected officials) are.”

Honestly, this is one of the most detestable and corrupt periods in Alabama history, and how it didn’t cause more anger and outrage — and lead to more arrests and corruption charges for a number of Alabama lawmakers — is beyond me. 

At the very least, someone should publicly explain why Luther Strange was never formally investigated. 

The guy had no input in the EPA situation at all for months. Then the Balch attorneys show up at his office with pre-written letters promising to block state funds being spent on the clean-up. He sends them. And shortly thereafter large amounts of cash start showing up in Strange’s campaign account. 

It’s insane. 

And, I think, it speaks to a larger problem in this state: voter apathy. 

Even with all of this knowledge about what Strange did here, and what he did a few months later when he accepted a U.S. Senate appointment from a man (Bentley) he was investigating, Alabama voters would have voted for him in a landslide over Doug Jones. And they would have re-elected him state AG. 

Had Bentley understood how iCloud works, he would have continued on as governor. There never would have been fury over this incident. 

And yet, take this same set of circumstances and change the names of the people involved to Clinton and Obama, as I did at the start, and the voters of Alabama would be outraged. 

That has to change. Good, honest government should be the first and last goal, party be damned.  

Until it is, the corruption, incompetence and poor governance will never, ever end.

 

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Opinion | With reckless abandon

Joey Kennedy

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This is Thursday. Since Sunday, we’ve had more than 1,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Alabama. Let that number sink in. Some of those 1,000-plus new cases will end in death or permanent damage. Our caseloads are going up. They’re not on a plateau. They are increasing, by more than 1,000 in four days.

Open up!

As I travel to the undisclosed location on UAB’s campus where I work on my upcoming classes, write recommendation letters, and prepare for school in the fall, I’m seeing more and more people on the streets. I don’t think I have ever seen as many people out walking their dogs or just walking, period. When I visit my corner convenience store to buy a bottle of wine or an emergency bag of dog food, I don my mask and disposable gloves. Yet, even though the store’s owners are responsible, requiring social distancing and masks, about half the people I see in the store don’t wear masks. I get in and out quickly, throw my gloves in the garbage can outside and sanitize my hands and car surfaces.

As I was driving around working on this story, fewer than half the people I see on the street or entering big-box stores like Wal-Mart or grocery stores, are bothering to wear masks.

Is it simply cabin fever leading desperate people out onto the streets without protective gear during a world pandemic? Have we just decided that more deaths are worth it to restart the economy? We’re getting close to 100,000 people killed since February across the country.

The feeble response to the pandemic in Washington, D.C., has caused many unnecessary deaths. This is the legacy of the Trump administration: A wrecked economy, and, before it’s over, hundreds of thousands of wrecked families.

I remember Ronald Reagan speaking to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Bill Clinton’s response after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, George W. Bush’s empathy after 9/11, Barack Obama’s grief after mass shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Donald Trump lacks any empathy whatsoever. Mostly, he tries to redirect blame to anybody but his administration. Truman’s “the buck stops here” has no place in the Trump White House. Maybe “nothing stops here” would be more suited. Trump is so petty that even during a deadly pandemic, he refuses to schedule the long tradition of unveiling his predecessor’s White House portrait. (Nothing gets under Trump’s orange skin more than a black-skinned man who is far more popular with people in this country than Trump will ever be.)

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Parts of all 50 states are reopening; at one point, it seemed Gov. Kay Ivey was taking it slow, but apparently no longer. People are gathering right here in Birmingham and in Alabama, violating social distancing and mask requirements because apparently they don’t care.

In too many ways, it appears Trump’s pathological narcissism is a novel coronavirus, too, infecting many Americans with anger, hate, and reckless abandon. They swallowed the bleach, so to speak.

That, too, will be this awful man’s legacy.

Make America great again? What a joke. It’ll take a Democrat to do that. Again.


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner,
writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Speaker Sam Rayburn and Congressman Bob Jones

Steve Flowers

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The legendary Speaker of the U.S. House, Sam Rayburn, coined a famous phrase he used often and imparted to young congressmen when they would arrive on Capitol Hill full of vim and vigor.  He would sit down with them and invite them to have a bourbon and branch water with him.  The old gentleman, who had spent nearly half a century in Congress, after hearing their ambitions of how they were going to change the world, would look them in the eye and say, “You know here in Congress there are 435 prima donnas and they all can’t be lead horses.”  Then the Speaker in his Texas drawl would say, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”

Mr. Sam Rayburn ruled as Speaker during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt post-Depression and World War II era.  The Democrats dominated Congress.  Mr. Sam could count on the big city congressmen from Tammany Hall in New York and the Chicago machine politicians following the Democratic leadership because they had gotten there by going along with the Democratic bosses who controlled the wards that made up their urban districts.  But the country was still rural at that time and Mr. Sam would have to invite a backsliding rural member to his Board of Education meeting in a private den in the basement of the Capitol and occasionally explain his adage again to them in order to get along, you have to go along.

One of Mr. Sam Rayburn’s young pupils was a freshly minted congressman from Alabama’s Tennessee Valley.  Bob Jones from Scottsboro was elected to Congress in 1946 when John Sparkman ascended to the U.S. Senate.

Speaker Rayburn saw a lot of promise in freshman congressman Bob Jones.  The ole Texan invited Jones to visit his Board of Education meeting early in his first year.  He calmly advised Jones to sit on the right side of the House chamber in what Mr. Sam called his pews.  He admonished the young congressman to sit quietly for at least four years and not say a word or make a speech and to always vote with the Speaker.  In other words, if you go along you will get along.

Bob Jones followed the sage advice of Speaker Rayburn and he got along very well.  Congressman Bob Jones served close to 30 years in the Congress from Scottsboro and the Tennessee Valley.  He and John Sparkman were instrumental in transforming the Tennessee Valley into Alabama’s most dynamic, progressive and prosperous region of the State.  They spearheaded the location and development of Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal.  Bob Jones was one of Alabama’s greatest congressmen.

At the time of Bob Jones’ arrival in Congress in 1946, we had nine congressional seats.  By the time he left in the 1960’s, we had dropped to eight.  We now have seven. Folks, I hate to inform you of this, but population growth estimates reveal that we are going to lose a seat after this year’s count.  

Our current seven-person delegation consists of six Republicans and one Democrat.  This sole Democratic seat is reserved for an African American.  The Justice Department and Courts will not allow you to abolish that seat.  Reapportionment will dictate that you begin with that premise.

The growth and geographic location of the Mobile/Baldwin district cannot be altered, nor can the urban Tennessee Valley 5th District, nor the Jefferson/Shelby 6th District. They are unalterable and will reveal growth in population.  Our senior and most powerful Congressman Robert Aderholt’s 4th District has normal growth and you do not want to disrupt his tenure path.

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The old Bob Jones-Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area is where the real growth in the state is happening.  The census numbers will reveal that this area of the state is booming economically and population wise. Therefore, you may see two seats spawned from this Huntsville-Madison, Limestone-Decatur-Morgan and Florence-Muscle Shoals-Tuscumbia area. The loser in the new reapportionment plan after the census will probably be the current 2nd district.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | Hey y’all! Watch this!

Joey Kennedy

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My friend who is a server in one of our favorite Birmingham restaurants is afraid. She worries that as restaurants begin allowing customers back inside, she’ll come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. That’s not only possible, but likely, she said.

“My customers come for curbside service,” she said. “I know the kind of people who are going to eat inside. The kind who don’t care.”

And in this pandemic, not caring means possible death. Nobody comes back from that.

It’s too early to open this much, this fast. I recently read that Alabama is already one of the most open states in the country. There are rules, but there have been rules requiring masks outside of the home or vehicle for weeks, and I see people walking around and socializing without masks all the time.

Alabama’s novel coronavirus caseload continues to rise. As of this writing (May 13, 12:30 p.m.), Alabama is reporting nearly 10,500 cases and 402 deaths. Our first reported case was just 62 days ago.

Because “elective” procedures in hospitals were suspended as hospitals prepared for the COVID-19 crush, an important heart procedure for my wife was postponed from early April to last week. But to have the procedure, she needed to be tested for the virus.

My wife has a number of health conditions that would put her at high risk if she contracted the disease. Her irregular heartbeat is one of them. But to keep her and those giving her the procedure as safe as possible, a test was mandatory.

The test was a drive-by, and the entire ordeal felt dystopian. We drove to the testing site in Birmingham, near Southern Research, all the while listening to a kind-of-creepy, repeated, recorded message on our radio. We were told not to lower our windows. Not to talk to the workers. At one station in the testing field, we called a phone number a health care worker held up on a sign so that my wife could be screened. She put her ID between the passenger window glass and door seal so the worker could see it. A plastic bag to contain her sterile swab was placed under the right-side wiper. The radio voice continued to tell us not to talk to the workers or open our windows. The workers know you thankful, the voice said. In English and in Spanish. A big “S”, some kind of code, was written on the windshield (we assumed it signaled Veronica was there because she was going to have a “surgery,” but we don’t know; we were told not to talk to the workers!). As we entered the right side of a two-lane testing line, I noticed a big white truck up ahead with two Trump bumper stickers. “Make America Great Again.” Is this America being great? I am really tired of “winning.” We pulled up to the tester, where we were told to turn off the air-conditioning and finally roll down the passenger window. You’re going to experience about five seconds of discomfort, the tester said. My wife pulled her mask down, the swab entered her nose, clearly making her uncomfortable. The sample was taken, placed in our windshield baggie, sealed, and tossed into a cooler. The worker – doctor, nurse, somebody – was fully shielded and dressed in lots of PPE. Everybody at the site was. As unsettling as the process could be, it was very efficient, and the workers we weren’t supposed to talk with, were kind, as gentle as possible, and mostly smiling. We thanked them anyway.

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As we exited the parking lot, a gentleman placed a rolled-up flyer in the car door’s handle. “Don’t get it until you’re completely out of the lot. That was a sheet telling us we were presumed to have COVID-19, so stay home until we get the test results.

Those came the next day; Veronica is negative.

Her procedure went forward last Wednesday. It included a shock to the heart – what’s known as electrical cardioversion – to bring her heart back into rhythm. It has been a complete success, thus far; Veronica’s heart is in regular rhythm, her blood pressure is down, and she’s at about 55 to 60 beats per minute. She says she feels better, and she acts like she does.

But she won’t if some fool who doesn’t believe in social distancing or in wearing a mask infects her. It could very well kill her.

So for now, in these early days, we’ll let the courageously foolish dine in, go to the salon, have their nails done, and get in that workout. We’ll continue using Shipt for groceries and DoorDash for dinner, and the no-contact curbside pickup at Target. And we’ll wear our masks. I’ll run the errands; Veronica can stay inside.

Be careful out there. Don’t be foolish. It’s one thing to put yourself in danger; it’s criminal to willingly do it to somebody else because you are simply impatient or needy or greedy. Or, more likely, stupid. “Hey y’all! Watch this!”

The economy will come back. It will. But no telling how many hundreds (or, eventually, thousands) of Alabamians won’t. That’s how death works.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | The 1965 special succession session

Steve Flowers

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The legislature meets in regular session every year for three-and-a-half months. However, an extraordinary special session can be called by the governor if he/she deems there is a dire emergency in the state government that needs addressing. This provision in the Constitution gives the governor inherent advantage in a special session. The official proclamation calling for a special session allows the governor to set out matters for a specific purpose(s) when calling the session and requires the legislators to address those specific issues. You saw Governor Kay Ivey use this procedure quite effectively last year.

There were a large number of special sessions called in earlier years because the legislature met every other year. Special sessions were part of the norm during the Wallace years. Wallace realized the importance of isolating and focusing on his issues.

The Alabama Legislature has seen many epic legislative battles, but none can approach the level of animosity reached in the 1965 Special Session called by Gov. George Wallace to consider a constitutional amendment permitting Alabama’s constitutional officers to succeed themselves for one additional term.

At this time, the governor could serve only one term and could not succeed themselves. Only two governors had served more than one term. Big Jim Folsom and Bibb Graves had been two term governors but had waited out four years before returning for an unusual second term. Wallace wanted a second term. Therefore, the momentous and historical September 1965 Special Session called by Wallace is referred to in Alabama political lore as the Succession Special Session.

To set the stage, Wallace had lost to John Patterson in the 1958 governor’s race because Patterson was perceived as the most segregationist candidate. That was to be Wallace’s only defeat. After finishing second, he vowed that he was “out segged” and he would never be “out segged” again. He immediately began his campaign for 1962. He won the 1962 race as the most segregationist candidate. In his January 1963 inaugural address, he vowed “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Several events occurred that year. Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” to block integration at the University of Alabama propelled him into being the number one segregationist politician in America.

Wallace’s new found national fame emboldened him to enter presidential primaries in 1964 in Maryland, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Race seemed to be an issue in not only Alabama and the Deep South states but in other states as well. Wallace had captured the issue and had become a folk hero in Alabama.

With the dawning of 1965, attention began to focus on the 1966 governor’s race. There were already three prominent players posed to run. Former state senator, Ryan deGraffenreid, who finished second to Wallace in 1962, was running hard. Attorney General Richmond Flowers and Congressman Carl Elliott were also certain to run. Big Jim Folsom was also a probability.

Wallace realized about midyear 1965 that he needed to remain governor. Thus, the special session was called for September 30. Wallace was at the peak of his popularity and enjoyed immense support in the House of Representatives. His succession bill, House Bill 1, was reported favorably from the Rules Committee on the second legislative day and passed the House on the third legislative day by a vote of 74-to-23.

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Therefore, the fight would be in the senate. The battle that took place in the senate was the fiercest and most bitter witnessed in the old Capitol. Seldom in our history has there been such intense tension and drama.

Throughout the session the numbers remained about the same. Wallace had about 18 loyal senators. They needed 21 to invoke cloture. They never got them. The opposition senators were extremely capable. Most were legislative veterans who knew and used the rules to gain parliamentary advantage. The opponents included Vaughn Hill Robison of Montgomery, Joe Smith of Phenix City, Bob Gilchrist of Hartselle, Larry Dumas of Birmingham, and John Tyson of Mobile. A good many of these senators were loyal to deGraffenreid. Wallace went into each of their districts and threatened these senators with losing road projects andother pet projects. They all remained steadfast.

Finally, on October 22, 1965, the 14th day of the session, Wallace realized he could not get the 21 votes needed for a constitutional amendment. The state senate had denied him the opportunity to run for a second successive term. No senator who opposed this legislation was reelected in 1966. Some chose not to run, but each one who sought reelection was overwhelmingly defeated.

Wallace ran his wife Lurleen and she won a landslide victory in 1966.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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